I'm an actor working in New York City. However, I happen to be in the most crowded category: early to mid-20s Caucasian female. I'm incredibly driven and know one day I'll have a successful career, but in the meantime it's pretty difficult to even get an audition. I have technique, a great look, and what I'm told is a pretty charming personality. The only thing lacking is experience.
For right now, I'm going to keep pushing forward in creating my own work and opportunities and try to be patient, rather than complaining that it's tough to get an audition or a job because there are so many people my type. (I am the only me, you know?) But how can I make myself stand out even more in this very crowded crowd?
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You're right. You're in a very competitive category. But it sounds like you've got the right attitude in terms of patience, creating your own work, and remembering that no matter how many girls are in your category, there's only one of you.
What'll help even further is to get very, very specific about the kinds of parts you play. Remember, it's someone else who lumps you together in the same group with everyone your age and gender. You don't have to. Think about what makes you unique, what sides of you might surprise people.
There's a "typing" exercise I do in some of my audition classes. It works best with a group, so see if you can convince some actor pals to make an evening of it. Ask and answer questions that narrow down your specific qualities. For example, if you were playing a student, what major might the character be likely to have? Would you be more likely to play a good student? A prankster? A bad influence? Troubled? Well-adjusted? Ambitious? Popular or a misfit? Do you play the best friend? What kind of friend? Reliable? Flaky? The leader of the pack or a follower? Without knowing you, would people guess that you like to dance? Travel? Read? Collect things? What kind of family would your character come from? If you did this with a group of strangers, as I do in my class, you'd be surprised by how often the whole group agreed on their answers.
This is not at all designed to limit your thinking about roles you could play, but rather to build your sense of your individuality in a sea of attractive young women. And when you're going in for something that calls for those specifics, you'll have greater confidence knowing that people are already inclined to see you that way.
Bottom line: patience, patience, and patience. And just keep showing up.
I've been an actor for 20 years. I just moved to New York from Chicago, where no matter what I did—and I tried everything—I couldn't get into the union. I'm having the same difficulty in New York. Oh, when will I get lucky enough to have the Screen Actors Guild fairy visit me? It's not like I'm untalented. It's not like I'm new to this business. I work a lot. I just can't seem to get any work in union jobs.
I understand that it's supposed to be a privilege to join, and it's supposed to give you prestige, but I've never really seen much of a difference between SAG actors and nonunion. Maybe I'm a little overly idealistic, but it seems to me that if the union let everyone join who wanted to join, there wouldn't be nonunion work (or at least a lot less of it). A lot of people get into this career for something other than the art of it, and they might join for a bit and then, when it gets too hard, quit.
So to me it seems a win-win for SAG: Dues collected from those who don't stick with it go to help those who do. I don't think that just because you're union you're a "legit actor." That title can come from being a working actor. And there are lots of people who just got lucky and got their cards. It's no longer the best way to guarantee you're weeding out the unprofessional from the professional.
I feel the same way about Actors' Equity. I just don't understand what the point of an exclusive membership is. Other unions (mechanics, construction, etc.) want people to join. It helps strengthen them to allow as many in as possible. So my question is: Is this even a discussion among SAG or Equity members, doing away with points and waivers and just allowing an open-door policy?
—Waiting for My SAG Fairy to Arrive
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I took your question to some of my union contacts. They tell me that while the subject is periodically broached, there's been no serious discussion of reducing the requirements for membership in either union.
Here's the thing: These issues are always more complex and multisided than they may seem. You make a great, logical case for the obvious advantages of allowing all interested actors to join SAG. And I absolutely see your points. Others feel strongly that SAG members should be actors who've reached a certain level. And yes, there are many talented, accomplished nonunion actors. The system for sorting out who's SAG-ready is imperfect. But having some kind of achievement standard maintains union prestige. Also, since all members can vote on SAG issues, many feel that membership should be limited to working pros.
The equation is even thornier with Equity: Every member has access to union open calls. So if everyone—even total amateurs—could join, then seasoned vets could lose audition opportunities to people who woke up that morning and decided to go into show business. That would frustrate not only those accomplished actors but casting people as well. They'd have to sift through both the qualified and unqualified members to find the professionals. Even now, CDs tend to focus on agent appointments more than open calls. That situation would worsen.
An open-door policy also wouldn't fix the problem of nonunion production. There will always be producers who go nonunion, and actors who choose that status because it allows them to find more work.
None of this is simple, and it's important to remember that a union card isn't the golden career ticket many imagine. It only adds you to a pool of actors who, like you, are competing for far too few jobs. These points notwithstanding, I hope this worthy discussion continues and that, some day soon, you find those cards under your pillow.
Michael Kostroff will be moderating the panel "Unsolved Casting Mysteries: Demystifying the Audition Process" on Sat., Nov. 14 at Actorfest LA, Backstage's annual tradeshow. Go to Actorfest.com for details on attending as well as the participating CDs on the panel.
Any questions or comments for The Working Actor? Please email Jackie and Michael at firstname.lastname@example.org.